This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bill Gates' Letter

Like me, you may have received an email today from Bill Gates:
I am writing to share my fifth annual letter about the work our foundation and its partners are doing. From time to time we should step back and celebrate the way that the right goals and smart innovation have done so much to improve the lives of people. In previous annual letters, I’ve focused on the power of innovation to reduce hunger, poverty, and disease. But any innovation—whether it’s a new vaccine or an improved seed—can’t have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. That’s why in this year’s letter I discuss how innovations in measurement are critical to finding new, effective ways to deliver these tools and services to the people who need them most.
You can read my letter at
Well, in fact I did read his letter (and watched him on TV, as well, where he described himself as a bigger geek than Steve Jobs). In fact, it is pretty amazing what one couple with nearly unlimited money can do for the world. Here's one of the excerpts from his "letter" that particularly caught my eye:
There are now just three countries that have never eliminated polio: Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. I visited Northern Nigeria four years ago to try to understand why eradication is so difficult there. I saw that routine public health services were failing: Fewer than half the kids were getting vaccines regularly, and there were no reliable figures for how many children lived in each area. Also, the normal process of quality monitoring done as part of each polio campaign was not working. Statistics about the quality of coverage varied greatly. We decided we needed to invest heavily in another layer of quality monitoring to understand what was going wrong. This involved picking random locations on the map and randomly checking children in those places to see if they had been vaccinated. The work required specially trained staff working independently of the people implementing the vaccination campaigns. That impartiality was crucial....The measurement systems put in place by the eradication initiative will be invaluable for other health care activities, including routine vaccination of infants, which means the legacy of polio eradication will live beyond stopping a disease that once paralyzed over 400,000 children every year.
Obviously he does this with the help and cooperation of a broad range of national and international organizations, but I still find this to be very impressive.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It Takes a Village

In response to my note yesterday about education and health, someone led me to a story from the Christian Science Monitor suggesting that communities needed to work together to "save the family" by encouraging young couples with children to stay together, and they followed up with this question:
Do you think this is correct? That the USA must save families to prevent poverty? I feel this sort of message discriminates against single parents and makes them feel they are in some way failures. I can't see how this sort of article can be published in a country where all are equal. This sort of article will make single parents feel inferior and thus has no place in the American press.
The reality is that children growing up in poverty do not have as good a set of life chances as those who grow up in families with more resources per person. Currently in the United States, one in five children lives in a family with income at or below the poverty level and nearly half live in low-income families (at or below twice the poverty level). One of the major issues is that a large proportion of children living in low-income families are living in a single-parent household:
32 percent of all children with married parents – 15.5 million – live in low-income families.
69 percent of all children with a single parent – 16.4 million – live in low-income families.
This cannot bode well for the future of the country and a natural policy question is:  What can we do about this? The article that inspired the comment suggests that communities should be doing all they can to make it easier for couples to stay together--noting that at the time of birth most mothers are still in a relationship with the child's father. Two incomes instead of one clearly improves the situation economically. If there are other ways to improve the economic circumstances of each child--if the village can step up in other ways--then they too could be implemented, but these other things are harder to define and implement.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Important is Education to Your Health?

My thanks to Shoshana Grossbard for pointing me to an interesting article just published in the Journal Population Economics that examines the health impact of educational attainment. The study examines twins included in the Midlife in the United States survey, which included a national sample of 1,900 twin pairs. Using these latter data, Swedish researcher Pettor Lundborg was able to conclude that a twin who completed high school was healthier than the sibling who did not, but other returns to education were negligible. These somewhat vague findings are a reminder that our health (and the chance of death more generally) is driven by factors that operate at several different scales. The single most important is the country in which we are born because that puts us in a particular physical and cultural infrastructural framework that influences all aspects of health. Life expectancy is more about where we live than who we are. At the other extreme is the gene pool with which we are born, which can affect the probability of good health and long life relative to those around us, regardless of whether we live in a high or low mortality society. In between are the sociocultural influences over which we might have some individual control, such as education. Even if a bit vague, the results are still consistent with the idea that, all other things being equal, education is good for your health--but I'm sure you never doubted that.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A First Step Toward Immigration Reform

Members of the US Congress have been unusually swift in generating a bipartisan proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. As the BBCNews notes, this is probably pushed along by the realization among at least some Republicans that they cannot afford to continue alienating the country's fastest growing demographic group. The proposal includes elements that have been on the table for some time--a path to citizenship for at least some of the current undocumented immigrants, a renewed effort at border security, and increased scrutiny of employers who might be hiring undocumented immigrants. Of course many of these elements are similar to the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. 

A cynic might suggest that since the average length of generation is about 25-27 years, it appears that each generation has to have a bill like this. But, the important point raised by everyone is that we cannot continue to exploit and discriminate against a large group of people whose only real crime is to come to the US to do the work that legal residents won't do for the wages on offer. Of course these jobs will still be there after the current crop of undocumented immigrants starts on the path to citizenship, which is why the proposal also includes ideas about guest-worker programs.

There are lots of details to be worked out--and it is not yet clear whether they can be worked out. But, in the meantime, we must keep in mind that an increasing fraction of future voters and taxpayers will be the children of immigrants (both legal and undocumented) from Latin America, especially Mexico. My view is that all of us will be better off if the parents of these young citizens are legal residents who can thus be making more concrete contributions to American society. In the short term the immigrants contribute to the fact that the US population continues to grow despite low fertility levels, but in the long term it is the children of the immigrants who will make the largest demographic contribution.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

More on China's Age Transition

This week's Economist, like yesterday's New York Times, has a story on China's population, based on a new set of data released by China's National Bureau of Statistics that emphasizes the fact that the working age population is starting to decrease in size. While this reporting raises the question of whether or not China will re-think its One-Child Policy, it also references the same research that I do in my book by S. Philip Morgan (recently named Director of the Carolina Population Center) and his colleagues suggesting that fertility is unlikely to rise much in China even if the government completely got rid of the One-Child Policy. Furthermore, at this point it would be another 15-20 years before that would make a difference in the labor force, even if that were to happen.
The demographic dividend that China has enjoyed in recent decades has kept wage rates low and saving rates high. With fewer children per worker, China has enjoyed a higher income per head, a large chunk of which it has been able to save and invest. The shrinking of the working-age population will put downward pressure on the saving rate and upward pressure on wages, as coastal factories have already found. According to Mr Laurent [of Global Demographics], the number of 15- to 24-year-olds will shrink particularly quickly, dropping by 38m, or 21%, over the next ten years.
Optimists argue that urbanisation can trump demography. Because 47% of China’s population still resides in the countryside, China’s urban workforce still has room to grow at rural China’s expense. Louis Kuijs of the Royal Bank of Scotland points out that urban employment increased by 12m in 2012 even as rural employment fell by 9m.
The point here, and it seems to me like a good one, is that the age transition has been an economic boon to China, but the country has not yet fully exploited its working age population. If those in rural areas can be effectively recruited into the manufacturing labor force, then "disaster" will be postponed. That assumes, of course, that the rural population is sufficiently well educated for these jobs, and that there are not major problems with the household registration system that currently turns rural migrants to cities into "illegal" migrants.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Age Transition is a Transition--China as a Case in Point

I am not a fan of China's One-Child Policy any more than I am a fan of the Republican Party's platform stand against abortion rights for women. I don't personally believe that a government should be telling, indeed forcing, women to have or not have children. Indeed, as I argue in my book, China's birth rate was already declining rapidly when the One-Child Policy was implemented and it probably would have dropped to low levels even without that Draconian policy. But it is important to remember that China's economic success is directly tied to the age transition brought about by that rapid drop in fertility, especially since it was occurring in a population that has become increasingly educated and thus economically more productive than would otherwise be the case. 

I mention this because a story in today's New York Times seems to lament the fact that as China's youth become college educated in greater proportions, they no longer want the factory jobs that have powered China's economy for the past two decades. Does this spell doom for China's economy? Not exactly, since:
The combination of the one-child policy and rising rates of college education is only starting to hit the core of China’s factory work force: 18- to 21-year-olds not in college. Their numbers are on track to plunge by 29 percent from 2010 to 2020 even if enrollments in higher education hold steady.
Since the age transition is just that--a transition--we have known since it began that it would not last. China's economy has tried to make the most of the transition, but now it has transition into something else. A better educated population is certainly a good starting place for China's next economic transition, which may involve things like managing workers in other less developed countries where wages are lower than in China.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Redistricting Still an Issue Three Years After the Census

Nearly three years after the 2010 Census was conducted, and more than two years since the results were released, redistricting is still in the headlines. This time it is at the state level in Virginia, as reported by the New York Times:
On Monday, one of Virginia’s state senators attended the inauguration: Henry L. Marsh III, a longtime civil rights lawyer, who played hooky to witness a milestone for an African-American president. 
The same day, Republicans back in the state capital, Richmond, took advantage of his absence to win a party-line vote, 20 to 19, to redraw electoral maps in a way that Democrats say dilute African-Americans’ voting strength.
It is not clear that the bill will survive a vote in Virginia's other legislative chamber, and if so it could be vetoed by the governor, but it is striking that the demographics of race are still at play to such a significant degree.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Very Useful Online Resource

I have just been alerted to a very nice online resource for demography courses, which is part of the Habitable Planet series put together by the Annenberg Foundation in 2007. Part 5 of the series is about "Human Population Dynamics."  How do I know this is a valuable resource? Because it includes an interview with Deborah Balk, who talks about spatial demography and other aspects of demographic research.

The most innovative and potentially useful aspect of this resource is the population simulator (which they call the "demographics lab") that allows you to modify the birth and death rates for eight different countries (USA, China, Egypt, India, Italy, Mexico, and Nigeria)--five of which I show graphically in Chapter 8--to see how the age/sex structure would change over time as you change those demographic parameters. It does not include an estimate for net migration, but the illustrative changes are still very thought-provoking.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Health vs Profits in the Tanning Industry

A lot of money has been made over the years selling products/services that are bad for your health. Tobacco is the single best example of that, of course. The tanning industry is another good example. The scientific evidence is very powerful that exposure to ultraviolet rays--whether from the sun or from artificial sources like suntanning beds--increases your chance of cancer, especially melanoma which is very deadly. Nonetheless, if you have invested your money in providing those services to others, you have a vested interest in denying the validity of scientific findings, and that is exactly what the industry is doing, according to a story on
The creation last month of the tanning association, made up of 1,400 salon owners, steps up the $5 billion industry’s campaign to defend itself against mounting evidence of the harms caused by indoor tanning. Already, industry members have mounted an extraordinary effort to portray doctors and other health authorities as conspiring to unnecessarily scare the public about tanning, as FairWarning reported in August.
The tanning association describes its strategy in a document bearing its letterhead that was posted last month on TanToday, an online industry forum: “Promoting the indoor tanning industry will require retention of scientists throughout the world to help us debunk the scientific reports being used against us, and a major PR and lobbying campaign to bring the truth about indoor tanning to the government and to the public at large.”
Even before the new group formed, the industry was trying to prevent states and local governments from passing laws making it illegal for teens to tan indoors. At least 30 states already have imposed some limits on teen tanning and Vermont and California ban anyone under age 18 from using a sunbed.
The industry has argued that tanning is a good source of Vitamin D, which is created by the body in response to UV light. It blames dermatologists for scaring people about exposure to the sun and inducing an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in the process.
All of this is familiar to anyone who has followed the battle against smoking and common sense suggests that the result will eventually be that people no longer will think that being tan is cool, just as smoking is no longer cool. You can do it at your own risk--but then don't ask the public to pay your medical bills later on...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Climate Change on the Obama Inaugural Agenda

President Obama put climate change clearly on the national agenda in his inaugural address, as the New York Times notes:
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Mr. Obama said on Monday at the start of eight sentences on the subject, more than he devoted to any other specific area. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
He had largely avoided the subject during his campaign, perhaps out of fear of a backlash among the vocal minority with its hand in the sand about this issue (yes, I realize that "head in the sand" and "vocal" sound a bit contradictory, but you know what I mean).

Somewhat paradoxically, today's Times also has an editor's blog item by Vicas Bajaj asking "Will China Have to Abandon Its One-Child Rule?"
Chinese officials released data on Friday showing that the country’s economy grew faster than previously anticipated at the end of last year. Investors greeted that news enthusiastically while virtually ignoring another, more worrying development: The country’s working age population has officially started declining. In 2012, for the first time in recent memory, the number of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 59 fell — by 3.45 million to 937.27 million.
Although the decline is tiny in percentage terms, less than 1 percent, it marks an important turning point for the country and the global economy, which has come to rely on Chinese workers to assemble its iPhones and stitch its T-shirts. Beijing will now have to seriously confront the pleas of families, economists and others to abandon the draconian one-child rule.
To that we can only respond that (a) there are plenty of hungry would-be workers in other nations; but, more importantly (b) the world's climate cannot possibly handle a larger Chinese population putting out the kind of pollution that is currently required to make cheap goods for the rest of us.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Maximizing the Value of Education

Even a casual glance at the index of my book will remind you that education cuts across all demographic phenomena. The better educated you are, the fewer children you are likely to have, the longer you are likely to live, the more likely you are to migrate to a better job, the less likely you are to get a divorce, and the more likely you are to arrive at old age with an above average level of wealth and well-being. But education is really a proxy for other things about you and your value to society. At the personal level, it means that you more likely to be "enlightened" in the broadest sense of the term. At the intersection of you and society, education is associated with achievement. This is the theme of a book reviewed in this week's Economist: "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character," by Paul Tough (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  Now, full disclosure: I have not yet read the book. I have only read the review in The Economist, but it resonates with my own thinking.

The book is about an experimental program called KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), in the South Bronx of New York City, designed to close the achievement gap between privileged and poor students. Students did well in the program, but then did not do nearly as well in college as expected.
The problem, he [Tough] writes, is that academic success is believed to be a product of cognitive skills—the kind of intelligence that gets measured in IQ tests. This view has spawned a vibrant market for brain-building baby toys, and an education-reform movement that sweats over test scores. But new research from a spate of economists, psychologists, neuroscientists and educators has found that the skills that see a student through college and beyond have less to do with smarts than with more ordinary personality traits, like an ability to stay focused and control impulses. The KIPP students who graduated from college were not the academic stars but the workhorses, the ones who plugged away at problems and resolved to do better.
I immediately recalled Malcolm Gladwell's population book "Outliers," in which he described the amount of work required to become an "expert" at something. Yes, some people are clearly born with more talent than others, but the key to being exceptional typically involves a lot of hard work. To be sure, some have scoffed a bit at Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule, but the point is there nonetheless. Hard work increases the chance that you will achieve more than would otherwise be the case. And, when it is enlightened hard work, you and society are better off than before, and the demographic transition is in full bloom.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Orthodox Jews Driving Increase in New York

I have mentioned before that the ultra-Orthodox population of Israel is growing at a much higher rate than the rest of the Israeli population, and may be in a position to influence this coming Tuesday's election in Israel. The same demographic "divide" appears to be taking place in New York City, according to a report just out by the UJA-Federation of New York, and discussed in today's New York Times.
The Jewish population in the New York area grew by 9 percent over the last decade, reversing a longstanding trend of decline, the study found. But the growth did not affect all Jewish neighborhoods equally. Two-thirds of the rise was propelled by two deeply Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn with high birthrates — Williamsburg and Borough Park. Some of the city’s more affluent areas, like Brownstone Brooklyn and the Upper East Side, saw declines in their Jewish population, according to the study.
The study is based on telephone interviews conducted in 2011 in eight counties comprising the greater New York City area.
Interviews took place between February and July 2011. The process entailed dialing approximately 390,000 randomly selected telephone numbers during the screening and interviewing phases of the study. The screening phone calls identified 8,609 Jewish households and interviews were completed with 6,274 respondents, of which 5,993 are included in the interview data file.5 The study obtained a 79% interview cooperation rate.6 (Brief interviews were also conducted with approximately 31,900 non-Jewish households.) 
Interviews were then weighted by several criteria to project out to the total Jewish population of the region.
About three-quarters of the 1.8 million people who live in Jewish households in the New York area live in 1 of 30 distinct geographic areas, the study found. There are as many Jews on the Upper West Side — 70,500 — as there are in all of Cleveland, Dr. Beck reported, and more Jews in central Brooklyn, consisting of Flatbush, Midwood and Kensington, than in all of Baltimore.
Since ultra-orthodox males value religious study over other things, the unemployment rate is high among them (as it is in Israel), leading to fairly high poverty rates within that population. Sadly, at least in my view, high birth rates and poverty represent "tradition."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Oh, The Food that We Waste

This week the London-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers got lots of attention for its report calling attention to the incredible amount of food that is wasted in the world, especially in the richer countries.
Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.
Naturally, as BBCNews notes, there is push-back from those, like supermarkets, who are accused of being big corporate wasters, as compared to those of us who simply leave food on our plates. But the quibbles are only about how huge the waste is, not that it is huge. This is not a new issue, of course. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been pushing this theme hard, and Vaclav Smil, a Canadian economist, is one among many who have been writing about it for a long time.

So, the issue is not new, but it is large and it is important. At root (pun intended), there really is nothing more important than feeding the world's population, and if we can do that more readily by being more careful with food than by growing a lot more food than should be necessary, we will all be better off.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

We're Going to Learn More About Gun Violence

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that violence is a huge public health problem in the United States, killing 55,000 people per year in this country (roughly the total number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War). However, it turns out that since 1996 the CDC has been legally hampered in its ability to study violent deaths in detail. That, however, was overturned today by one of the Executive Orders signed by President Obama to try to gain control over deaths from firearms. USAToday has the story:
President Obama's demand Wednesday for research into gun violence could usher in a flood of data on the nation's 32,000 annual gun deaths after decades of an information blackout.
Scientists and policy makers say they have little scientific data about gun violence after Congress prohibited federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), from offering research grants to study anything that could be used to promote gun control. 
More than 100 research scientists noted in a letter to Vice President Biden that since 1973, the NIH has awarded three research grants to study more than 4 million gun injuries while awarding 212 grants to study cholera and 129 grants to study polio. Both illnesses have been nearly eradicated in the United States.
The end of federal research into gun violence came in 1996 when Congress first passed a National Rifle Association-backed amendment to a CDC appropriations bill that prohibited spending federal dollars on research that could be used to "advocate or promote gun control." The bill cut $2.6 million from the CDC's National Center for Injury and Control.
We should all be thoroughly ashamed that a lobbying organization like the NRA could have so completely shut off the spigot of federal funding for research in this area. The NRA seems to believe that the solution to gun violence is more guns, but as someone said on TV today, if more guns were the solution, we'd be the safest nation on earth--yet we aren't.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

John Wilmoth Takes Over as Director of the UN Population Division

In January of 2012 Hania Zlotnik retired as Director of the UN's Population Division after seven years in that position. This month, the UN named John Wilmoth, Professor of Demography at UC, Berkeley, as the new Director of the Population Division. He is taking a leave of absence from Berkeley to assume the position, as he did a few years ago when he was Chief of the Population Division's Mortality Section. Although Zlotnik was a Mexican citizen, whereas Wilmoth is a US citizen, they both share the characteristic of having a doctorate from the demography at Princeton University. The Population Division seemed to run very well under Dr. Zlotnik and I am sure that it will continue to do so under Dr. Wilmoth. Here is his overall take on future issues that the Population Division, and the rest of us, will have to deal with:
It is seldom true that a particular population trend is inherently good or bad. Nevertheless, population trends are powerful forces that shape the social world in fundamental ways, and therefore we must be aware of what is happening and take appropriate steps to respond to the challenges that emerge from demographic changes.
That, of course, is pretty much what my entire book is about. I couldn't have said it better.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Air Pollution a Huge Cost of Development in Beijing

The Economist's reporter in Beijing this week has posted a story about the incredibly bad air pollution that has hit Beijing. The pollution readings are literally off the chart, and are routinely publicized, as it turns out, by the US Embassy, which keeps a measuring device on its roof. However, the Economist reports that many people have phone apps that allow them to keep track of the day's air pollution level. These readings obviously put a bit of pressure on the Chinese government to report the actual, rather than fictitious data.
But on a day like Saturday, the discrepancy between official readings and independent ones hardly seemed to matter; you didn't need a weatherman to know which way the ill wind blew. Or failed to blow, as the case may have been. One expert quoted by Chinese media attributed this spike in pollution to a series of windless days that allowed pollutants to accumulate.
But wind can be a problem when it does blow, too. In the outlying provinces that are part of Beijing’s airshed, there is a great deal of heavy industry. Pollution regulations are much harder to enforce there. And, in this colder-than-average winter, people have been burning more coal and wood than usual.
Cleaning this up will clearly be expensive, and will raise the cost of living in Beijing, and the cost of doing business with China, which is probably why the government has moved slowly. But, at some point, the real environmental costs of China's economic "miracle" will have to be dealt with.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Immigration Reform May be Coming our Way

The New York Times reports today that the Obama administration is preparing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that may be introduced to the country in the President's State of the Union address and then introduced into Congress for action. A key element include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, if they can meet certain criteria.
The president’s plan would also impose nationwide verification of legal status for all newly hired workers; add visas to relieve backlogs and allow highly skilled immigrants to stay; and create some form of guest-worker program to bring in low-wage immigrants in the future.
There will naturally be petty partisan bickering, mostly supported by falsehoods like this one:
Representative Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican who follows immigration issues, said he remained opposed to “amnesty of any kind.”

He said that the Obama administration had been lax on enforcement, and that he would “continue working to secure our borders and enforce existing immigration law.”
This, of course, is patently false, since the Obama administration has deported more undocumented immigrants than any previous administration--far more than during the Bush administration. And, yet, the President received 71 percent of the Latino vote in this last election.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Demographer's Toolbox

Eddie Hunsinger has a graduate degree in Demography from UC, Berkeley, and is the State Demographer at the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Those are impressive enough qualifications, but I have just been alerted to a genuinely awesome website that he maintains, in which he provides access to (and descriptions of) a large array of really useful demographic tools. I admit that even I am not an expert in all of these, so I've got some work to do... I encourage you to check it out, and I bet you'll learn things you didn't know, but will find helpful to you.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mexico's Population Projections

Population projections in the United States are now quite intimately involved with what is happening demographically in Mexico, and Mexico's CONAPO (National Council on Population) recently completed a set of projections for Mexico (at the state level) out to 2050, building on the new data from the 2010 census. They project an increase from the 114 million counted in the 2010 census to 137 million by 2050, with the population essentially leveling off at that number by about 2040. 

They project increases in life expectancy (from the current 77 years for women to 82 in 2050), coupled with declines in fertility (from the current TFR of 2.2 down to 2.1). Furthermore, the total number of births each year in Mexico is projected to stay very close to its current level of 2.2 million per year (dropping a bit to 1.9 million per year by 2050). This would clearly suggest that the need for young people in Mexico to migrate to the US because of the pressure of population growth on resources is forecast to recede into oblivion. But, that doesn't mean that CONAPO projects no migration. As we know, there will continue to be a demand for workers in the US to pay for the increasingly older population and CONAPO takes this into account, projecting that the net annual number of international emigrants from Mexico will rise from its current level of about 300,000 per year (a drop from the average of 500,000 in the previous decade) to about 600,000 per year by 2019 and staying at that level until 2050. That annual exodus is, of course, part of the explanation for Mexico's projected slow growth.

So far, CONAPO has published only summary data, and not age-sex structures. We can hope that these details will come along soon, prodded by members of SOMEDE (the Mexican Demographic Society) from whom I just learned about the new projections.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A New Look at California Population Projections

The Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health has just put out a new report on California's projected population of children, authored by demographer Dowell Myers of the University of Southern California. I was alerted to this by a producer at KPBS here in San Diego, who has asked me to be on the radio with Professor Myers tomorrow (Wednesday, the 9th) at noon (PST) to discuss population projections for California and what they imply. I mention the date and time in case anyone has a chance to also read the report and offer me any comments or suggestions ahead of time! (post a comment here or send me an email at

The title of the report and some of its verbiage suggest that the population of children in California is on the way down. That is sort of true, because the birth rate plummeted especially among Latinas when the Great Recession hit. This dent in the age structure will likely be permanent, but demographers for the State of California project that the number of births will start rising again this year.

Nonetheless, it is clear that California, like the rest of the country, will face an increasing ratio of older people to younger people, because the number of the former is growing faster than the latter. However, the biggest change in California, and one highlighted by the report, is the dramatic shift in internal migration. Over the past few years, California has shifted from a net importer of migrants from elsewhere in the US to a net exporter. Were it not for international migrants, the population of California could be headed to smaller, rather than larger numbers. So, rather than having a labor force that was educated at some other state's expense, California is now faced with having to pay for the education of its entire labor force (and maybe a few who are going to leave for elsewhere in the US). This is a HUGE shift and one that most people don't notice and certainly don't want to pay for. But pay we must, because the future of the state's economy is at stake.

UPDATE: The conversation about this with me and Dowell Myers on the radio, as well as a follow-up TV news interview with me are available at:

Monday, January 7, 2013

More on the Latest Census Bureau Population Projections

The latest set of US Census Bureau population projections, based on data from the 2010 census, have created a bit of a stir because the Bureau projects a slightly lower population in the future than they had in their previous project in 2008. A reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune asked me about them a few days ago, and generated a front-page story in Sunday's paper. My basic point was that the projections might be a bit too low (although probably not a whole lot) because the current demographics, on which the projections build, are affected by the economy:
Economic circumstances are the No. 1 driver of population growth, said John Weeks, a demographer at San Diego State University.
In the past decade, when the housing market was soaring and the economy was booming, both the birthrate and the level of incoming migration were high. Jobs generally were available to newcomers, and people felt like they could afford to have children.
As the economy plunged during the Great Recession and remained slow since, demographers said people have been more cautious about expanding their families or trying their luck as transplants in the United States.“If we can keep our heads about us, the economy is going to improve, and as the economy improves, two things are going to happen: Migration will pick up a bit, and the birthrate will bounce back a bit,” Weeks said.
Of course, like all good academics, I threw in a few caveats. In high fertility countries, in the early stages of the demographic transition, a good economy is associated with a demand for fewer children. However, as fertility drops to levels closer to replacement, as in the US, a good economy is likely to stimulate a slight (but probably not more than a slight) increase in fertility. Naturally, the reporter left those historical complications out of her story, and that's OK as we long we nonetheless understand them.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Social Security Discussions Need to be on the Table

Gary King of Harvard and Samir Soneji of Dartmouth published an Op-Ed in today's New York Times reminding us that it is very unwise to let politicians take Social Security off the table when it comes to budget talks. Their main point is that the mortality forecasts made by the actuaries at the Social Security Administration (SSA) are probably underestimating future survival of older Americans. Their analysis of mortality data, reported in the journal Demography, suggests that the positive effects of the decline in smoking will not be overpowered by the negative effects of increasing obesity. If true, this means that there may well be more people eligible for tax-payer funded retirement benefits down the road than are currently being planned for. If so, the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of money (because it is a pay-as-you-go system) sooner than currently forecast by the SSA.

Now, we all know that prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. But, this is one of those situations where I agree with King and Soneji that we should be thinking about the worst-case scenario. It is a much smaller burden on everyone now to plan ahead than it is to do crisis management later. Indeed, many years ago, an engineering firm hired by the City of San Diego to redo sewer lines in the city asked me to provide a set of population projections complementing those prepared by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). Using every possible projection technique available to me (albeit less sophisticated than the ones developed by King and Soneji), my calculations suggested that most projections were a bit higher than those developed by SANDAG. Since sewers are very expensive to replace, it was obviously wise to plan for the highest likely population increase, and they did so. This is the same kind of thinking we need to do when it comes to Social Security.

I will add, though, that King and Soneji employed a cheap trick at the beginning of their article:
For the first time in more than a quarter-century, Social Security ran a deficit in 2010: It spent $49 billion dollars more in benefits than it received in revenues, and drew from its trust funds to cover the shortfall. Those funds — a $2.7 trillion buffer built in anticipation of retiring baby boomers — will be exhausted by 2033, the government currently projects.
The reason for the deficit was the payroll tax holiday, which has been ended with the fiscal cliff deal. That tax holiday had been suggested by the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission as a short-term way to kick-start the economy during the recession, and it certainly helped. And virtually all of the solutions to the Social Security problem that King and Soneji outline are contained in that commission's report. A little credit for these ideas might have been appropriate.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Syrian Demographic Disaster Bleeds On

The Syrian uprising/civil war has now been going on for nearly two years. I first noted it in June of 2011, when it was clear that the Arab Spring was vastly more complex and deadly in Syria than elsewhere. The United Nations this week produced an estimate that 60,000 Syrians have died as a result of the conflict. These victims are in addition to the nearly 500,000 refugees that have fled the country, spreading out in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq (in order of the number of refugees). Keep in mind that it is exceedingly difficult to count deaths in the midst of a conflict, but the general methodology was laid out by the UN:
According to a news release issued by OHCHR, the preliminary analysis, which took five months to complete, was conducted using a combined list of 147,349 reported killings, fully identified by the first and last name of the victims, as well as the date and location of the deaths.
Any reported killing that did not include at least these four elements was excluded from the list, which was compiled using datasets from seven different sources, including the Syrian Government.
The analysts noted that 60,000 is likely to be an underestimate of the actual number of deaths, given that reports containing insufficient information were excluded from the list, and that a significant number of killings may not have been documented at all by any of the seven sources.
These estimates are both higher than previous estimates, and yet are claimed by the UN to be minimum estimates, so there is bound to be criticism. But it seems silly to quibble about the numbers when it is so abundantly clear that a lot of people are dying needlessly and that the violence should end. It appears that Russia is the key player here. If Putin withdrew his support for Assad, the Syrian government would almost certainly collapse. That seems to receive little notice in the West, where the "more important" news regarding Putin is that he is offering Russian citizenship to wealthy French entertainers  who want to avoid the high taxes in France. And the bleeding in Syria continues...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Will the American Family Wither on the Vine?

Justin Stoler of the University of Miami pointed me to a lengthy article posted New Year's Eve by Joel Kotkin, an entrepreneurial author/commentator who focuses especially on issues related to demographics. His latest book is The Next 100 Million: America in 2050. I should note that this book came out in 2010, at which point the US population was enumerated at just less than 309 million. So, on that basis, he would project the population in 2050 to be 409 million. Just recently, the Census Bureau revised its population projection downward a bit and they expect the 2050 US population to be just under 400 million. That's not exactly the point of his article, but it is relevant, and here's why. The title of his article is "Demography as destiny: The vital American family." As you begin reading the article, you have a sense of gloom that the country is falling apart:
If birthrates continue to decline, Western nations may devolve into impoverished and enervated nursing homes. And without strong families, children are likely to be more troubled and less productive as adults.
Given the stakes, Americans must forgo political squabbles and focus on practical ways to remove barriers to marriage and child-rearing. One crucial component for strong birthrates is steady economic growth. Before the 2008 economic collapse, the U.S. fertility rate was 2.12, the highest in 40 years. But the tumultuous economic problems since then have helped drive the fertility rate to 1.9 per woman, the lowest since the economic malaise era under President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.
He goes on to a litany of other issues that some people believe are associated with low birth rates and an aging population. As you read the article, you have the clear feeling that, in his mind, the American family is going to hell in a hand basket and the country is doomed. But, no:
Fortunately, the long-term prognosis is not all bad. Pew Research Center reports that the emerging millennial generation rank being good parents, owning a home and having a good marriage as their top three priorities. Generational chroniclers Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, in their book Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America, suggest that the younger generation is as family-oriented as their elders, albeit with a greater emphasis on shared responsibilities and more flexible gender roles.
Whew! That's a relief. He finally helped to explain why it is that rather than declining into oblivion, we expect there to be nearly 100 million more Americans in 2050 than there were in 2010.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Does Being Overweight Really Lower Your Risk of Death?

A very deceiving headline popped up in the New York Times today to the effect that "Study Suggests Lower Mortality Risk for People Deemed to Be Overweight." One has to go into the fifth paragraph of this story to realize that the findings are not what they seem. This is not a case of bad science, but rather a case of a journalist wanting to be sensationalist. The story comes from a new paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which does not report new research, per se, but rather analyzes the results of more than 100 studies looking at mortality risks associated with differing levels of body mass index (BMI). The title of the published paper is: "Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." There is obviously nothing sensational in that. JAMA produced a news release with a more informative headline: "Higher Levels of Obesity Associated With Increased Risk of Death; Being Overweight Associated With Lower Risk of Death."  This states the authors' full conclusions, rather than only the second part, which wound up constituting the NY Times headline. So, you can see that this is like those classic intro psych class experiments where you start a rumor at one end of the room and as each person passes on the information to the next person, the content is altered.

Here's the bottom line: Being obese is not somehow better for your health. What the authors did find, however, was that people who are considered overweight, but not obese, by current definitions of BMI, did have lower mortality levels than those people with lower BMI. Why? is possible that overweight or somewhat obese people are less likely to die because they, or their doctors, have identified other conditions associated with weight gain, like high cholesterol or diabetes.
“You’re more likely to be in your doctor’s office and more likely to be treated,” said Dr. Robert Eckel, a past president of the American Heart Association and a professor at University of Colorado.
At the same time, the research suggests that not all fat is bad for you and that perhaps the BMI categories need to recalibrated a bit. Being skinny is not necessarily healthier than what we currently think of as being slightly overweight. As the Greeks famously advised--everything in moderation. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Ten Posts of 2012

The beginning of a new year inevitably cries out for lists related to the accomplishments of the past year and plans and prospects for the coming year. The researcher in me suggested that it was a good time to see which of the more than 300 items I had posted in 2012 had been viewed most often. So, here is the top ten hit list:

1. By a pretty wide margin and not too surprising since it came out early in the presidential race: "Demographics of the Republican Primary"

2. You won't live forever: "Will You Still be Alive for Your 50th HS Reunion?"

3. European demography is a big issue: "Germany Contemplates a New Family Policy"

4. China almost always elicits interest: "Chinese Condom Market Heats Up"

5. Another example of that: "Can India Catch Up With China?"

6. This is a seriously sad and complex situation: "The Demographics of Conflict in Syria"

7. Issues of Aging always attract attention: "Aging Populations Slow Economic Growth"

8. Another item about the US election: "The Demographics of the 2012 Presidential Election"

9. An important and very interesting topic:  "Religion and the Role of Women in Society"

10: And, finally: "The Ongoing Myth of a Fertility Implosion"

I hope you enjoy this walk down the demographic memory lane of 2012, and I hope that 2013 treats you and all of us very well.